Tofu with peanut sauce

Peanut sauce inspired by this recipe from Daily Garnish.  I use peanut butter instead of peanut flour, but everything else works out pretty much the same.

The basics:

  • Make peanut sauce.
  • Cut a 14-16oz. block of extra firm tofu into cubes (24 cubes, in this case, if you were curious).  Cook tofu separately from other ingredients.  Slow is the key.  (See notes on tofu cooking below.)
  • Toss cooked tofu with about half of the peanut sauce.  Reserve remaining sauce for the veggies.
  • Prep any veggies you want.  I used carrots, Napa cabbage, and garlic in this dish, plus fresh green onions for topping.  After the tofu came out of the skillet, I tossed the veggies in for a quick stir-fry with a bit of oil and a splash of soy sauce.  Top with remaining peanut sauce.
  • Serve over rice or noodles.  For dinner, we ate this over our homemade noodles, dressed up with a bit of sesame oil.

The Tofu

Prior to this meal, I relied on my non-stick pan for perfectly cooked tofu cubes.  With the addition of a 15-inch cast iron skillet, plus some stainless steel pots, we’ve really minimized our reliance on our two remaining non-stick pans.

Still, I originally reached for the big non-stick pan, afraid the tofu would stick too much in the cast iron unless I used TONS of oil.  But what fun is dinner without a little experimentation?

I cooked the tofu in the big cast iron skillet by itself.  I coated my tofu cubes in peanut and canola oil, and also added some of both kinds of oil directly to the skillet.  In the end, I did use a good bit of oil, but it still fell within my acceptable range, and, most importantly, it left me with delicious, crunchy tofu cubes, no sticking, and no chemical-coated pan required!

For an in-depth “Tofu Tutorial,” also courtesy of the Daily Garnish, click here.

Finger-licking good vegetarian reubens

I’ve experimented with various ways to make vegetarian reuben sandwiches over the past few years.  The simplest: make as usual, just eliminate the corned beef.  The thousand island dressing and sauerkraut provide plenty of flavor (and salt!) — combine that with melty Swiss cheese and some good bread (rye or whole wheat), and you have a pretty delicious sandwich.

However, our new favorite version does include a corned beef substitute — tempeh.  This does not taste like corned beef, but it provides some nice additional texture, flavor, and protein to the sandwich.

Finger-licking good vegetarian reubens (Makes 4 sandwiches)

  • 1 package tempeh, prepared per the directions here
  • homemade Thousand Island dressing (see below for recipe)
  • 1-2 c. Sauerkraut (homemade or store bought)
  • 8 slices of Baby Swiss
  • 8 slices of whole wheat bread (or rye, if you like, but we enjoy these on our homemade wheat bread)
  • butter, softened (but not melted)

Butter outsides of bread, then assemble sandwiches with cheese, tempeh slices, and a small amount of dressing.  (Save the sauerkraut and more dressing for after the sandwiches grill, to prevent soggy bread.)  Grill the sandwiches in a large frying pan over medium-low heat until cheese is nice and melty, and bread is lightly toasted, flipping to grill both pieces of bread.  After grilling, and just before eating, add sauerkraut and more dressing.

Have your cloth napkins ready — a good reuben should be nice and juicy.

Extra points for color with purple cabbage sauerkraut

Thousand Island dressing

  • 1/2 c. mayonnaise or plain yogurt
  • 1/4 c. ketchup
  • 1 T. finely chopped onion
  • Dash of Worcestershire sauce
  • Finely chopped dill and/or sweet pickles

I definitely ad lib on this recipe — no measuring involved.  Start with the quantities above, add finely chopped pickles as desired, and then adjust until you have the flavor and consistency you want.  I am spoiled because I make this with our super-flavorful homemade ketchup, but it should work with the any variety.

Sushi shortcut — the purists will cringe

I enjoy sushi, and since we don’t go out to eat all that much, it’s something that I’d like to make more at home.  My first attempt awhile back involved buying and cooking the special sushi rice, only to read in the instructions that the sushi rice, once cooked, cannot really be saved for another day — it becomes hard and inedible if refrigerated for any length of time.

Now, if I’d read this instruction ahead of time, I would have simply prepared less rice, and it wouldn’t have been a big deal.  With the rice already prepared, however, we over-stuffed ourselves with sushi to avoid wasting any.

The other day, I was flipping through a cookbook, looking for something else, when I spotted a sushi recipe that used brown rice.  Not only is brown rice healthier than sushi rice (which is white rice), it’s something we often have on hand, already cooked.  No special rice to mess with?  Sounds good to me!

Easy Vegetarian Sushi

  • nori seaweed sheets
  • rice vinegar
  • seasoned rice vinegar
  • cooked brown rice
  • avocado
  • carrots, cut into matchstick-sized pieces
  • tofu, cut into small strips and lightly browned on stove-top
  • soy sauce and wasabi for dipping

Start by mixing the cooked brown rice with some seasoned rice vinegar.  If you don’t have seasoned rice vinegar, make your own by adding some sugar and salt to regular rice vinegar.  Set aside, and prepare carrots, avocado, and tofu.

Lay out a nori sheet, shiny side down.  If you have a sushi mat, you can use it here, but it’s not essential.  Cover most of the nori with a thin layer of the seasoned brown rice, leaving a one inch gap at the top.  Place the other fillings in a line across the sheet, an inch or two from the bottom of the sheet.  (I didn’t take a photo at this stage, so instead you can enjoy my awesome drawing.)

Make a mixture of [unseasoned] rice vinegar and water in a small bowl and dip your fingers before rolling the sushi.  Roll the sushi, starting from the bottom of the sheet — moisten your fingers in the vinegar and water as necessary.

Let the rolls rest, covered on a plate, for 10-15 minutes before cutting them.  To cut, dip a sharp knife in the water and vinegar mixture and cut to desired size.

Dip sushi pieces in soy sauce spiced with wasabi.  I made this sushi to go with the Asian dumpling soup last week.

Notes:

  • You can use almost anything you want to fill the rolls, just don’t try to stuff too much in there, or they won’t stay together well.
  • Many wasabi pastes have scary ingredient lists, including unnecessary food dyes.  I found powdered wasabi with a simple ingredient list: horseradish plus tumeric and spirulina for natural coloring.  Just mix a bit of the powder with a bit of water to reach desired consistency.

New flavor

A couple of weeks ago, I made my inaugural visit to Penzeys Spices, a chain that happens to have a location here in St. Louis.  I prefer to buy most of my spices and herbs at Golden Grocer, a small, locally owned, natural foods store that sells a variety of spices and herbs in bulk.

I favor this option because 1) bulk containers mean I can bring my own bags (plastic, yes, but I’m reusing them) and then fill my glass spice jars at home; 2) I can buy a 2-3 month supply and avoid buying a too-large amount of some obscure seasoning that turn to sawdust long before I use it; and 3) I haven’t done any official price comparisons, but I’m pretty sure I come out ahead financially with this option compared to buying prepackaged jars in a regular store.

Anyway, over the past couple of years, we’ve heard good things about,  and seen some interesting recipes featuring, smoked paprika (which Golden Grocer does not carry).  When we found ourselves in the neighborhood of Penzeys after a visit to the Maplewood Winter Market, we walked on over to investigate.  We came out with smoked paprika, szechuan peppercorns, and one other item that I don’t remember right now.

Sadly, Penzeys does not have bulk containers that you can use to fill your own bags, so we left with some unnecessary packaging.  We asked the cashier if they had ever considered offering bulk jars, and she acted like it would be nigh unto impossible.  Sigh.

Anyhow, we put the Szechuan pepper to use as soon as we got home, incorporating it into our lunch stir-fry.  We were enjoying the flavor, until, a few bites into our meal, we noticed that we couldn’t really feel our tongues.  It wasn’t that it was spicy hot, it just had this disconcerting effect.  Apparently this is a “normal” effect of this pepper.  We ended up picking out most of the peppercorns because the tingly numbness was just weird and made the dish less enjoyable.  I’m not sure what we’ll end up doing with the remaining 4 oz. of the pepper.

Later that same week, I experimented with the smoked paprika.  I made a super simple smoked paprika cream sauce as a topping for polenta with sauteed mushrooms and asparagus.

To make the cream sauce, I toasted the smoked paprika (~2 t.) in a bit of olive oil on the stove top — about 5 minutes on low heat.  Then I whisked in a half cup of cream and left it on the heat until just warmed.  I added salt to taste.

The result?  Delicious!  I resisted the temptation to eat the smoked paprika cream sauce by the spoonful (well, mostly resisted), because it went fabulously with the mushrooms and polenta.  This sauce would taste good on a variety of things — pasta, scrambled eggs, other veggies — let the experimenting begin!

The photo evidence of my creation suffered from poor light conditions — I’m sharing anyway, but be forewarned, the photo does NOT do justice to the deliciousness.


Sprouted

We didn’t grow spaghetti squash this year, so I bought a couple of small ones at the farmers’ market several weeks ago.  They’ve been sitting on the counter, waiting to be used.

I’ve been eating A LOT of pasta lately, so in an effort to mix things up a bit, I decided to prepare a spaghetti squash.  I cut into it, and was surprised to see that the seeds had sprouted.

Since many types of sprouts are quite tasty, I tried one — ick!  Very bitter.  Fortunately, the squash itself was fine.  I just scraped out the sprouts along with the seeds, and proceeded with the prep:

  • Cut in half lengthwise and scrape out the seeds.
  • Place cut side down in a glass dish with about an inch of water.
  • Microwave for 10-12 minutes, or until squash is tender.
  • Let cool slightly, then use a fork to scrape out the spaghetti-like strands.
  • Season to taste with olive oil, salt, pepper, herbs of your choice.
  • Also good topped with olives or capers.